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Entrepreneurship

Rajesh Krisnan, Founder of Perfect Home Solutions

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Rajesh Krisnan is 41, hailing from a middle class family in India. He lives with his wife and two children in Bangalore. Rajesh is keen in innovating and passionate about change. He started out his career as a scientist and engineer in the biomedical field, initially developing glucose sensors for people with diabetes.

Rajesh later moved on to commercial roles in the same area and have spent almost half my career in marketing new technologies to the consumer and healthcare markets. His career has exposed him to all aspects of a product life cycle in the medical technology space. He has primarily worked in start-ups and understand what it takes to build a great company. His education started with B.Tech in chemical engineering from IT-BHU (1994) after which Rajesh did his Master of Science at University of New Mexico and later graduated with an MBA from University of California-Berkeley (2005).

Currently, Rajesh is running his own venture, PerfectHome Solutions, dedicated to creating innovative solutions that will improve quality of life indoors. When he is not working, he spends a lot of time with his family and watching his children grow.

The Asian Entrepreneur has the privelege of speaking to Rajesh today about his work.

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What exactly is HighrisWhat exactly is Perfect Home Solutions?

Perfect Home Solutions is a venture dedicated towards delivering innovative solutions for quality-of-life related gaps indoors. We believe that solutions for problems that improve health and lifestyle simultaneously will ultimately contribute to better quality of life. We focus on making our products and solutions simple and easy to use. We currently make and sell Cactus moisture absorber, a product for home use through modern retail chains. This category of products is designed to provide a preventive solution for moisture related damages like the formation of fungus and mould in homes; pervasive damp and musty smells in bathrooms, kitchens and lofts.

How did you come up with the idea of Perfect Home Solutions?

After moving to our apartment in Bangalore, my wife had to painfully clean up a nasty mould infestation and even get rid of articles that were mould-ridden. She was getting tired of cleaning indoors frequently to get rid of the nuisance.

So, in 2011, we decided to start the company. We figured that everyone must be going through this at least once, if not more. It is just an unspoken problem that is ignored or taken care of by frequent cleaning whose effectiveness is questionable and short-lived. Since both of us have a healthcare background, we sometimes wonder if allergies in our son could have been triggered by floating moisture and mould indoors at that time.

We initially solved the issue by placing many sachets of silica gel throughout the house. That helped a lot and she didn’t have to clean so often and our stored articles were not being damaged any more. Plus, the smells were not there anymore. Start ups have been my entire career and I like working for small companies. While starting a venture from ground up has been a dream, it is also exciting and there was an opportunity that was presented to us.

How has it been like managing the business since?

The company was started in June 2011. It has been exciting and challenging. It is always exciting to do something from scratch and see it get a shape and grow. The challenges are multi-fold. It certainly seems like the wrong age to become an entrepreneur. Without an income, it takes a toll on the entire family. It is something I and my family reconcile every day. I am lucky to have their support. Doing business in India where product innovation is a rarity presents a challenge.

I sell my products through the fmcg channels of modern retail trade and it is something that keeps me up all night in figuring out how to make this category into mainstream one.

While people have a lot more exposure to and acceptance of new products and solutions, this will certainly not be a cake walk. I manage all aspects of the business from manufacturing to selling and marketing, customer care and there is not a single day where I have not learned something new and often I learn about myself to top it all. The most difficult thing is running the company on pretty much zero cash and a payment cycle that slows you down. With growing business, hopefully this will change. Emotionally, the journey has been stressful and fun at the same time.

Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup? How did you overcome it?

The single most difficult thing is funding. Most often startups fold because they run out of cash. It is absolutely true and you have to be highly disciplined. Every day is pretty much about survival. Organized investors are few in number for start up ventures and investments are fewer. So, we rotate our cash to grow the business and it severely hampers the speed. In my opinion, more than money, the right investing partner will also bring in connections that will catalyze the growth of the firm. While there are no solutions until funding comes through, I have to be creative on how to stretch every dollar. Beg, borrow, do what it takes.

How was the initial reaction from the consumers?

The reaction has been very positive. When the solution is explained, there is a light bulb that goes on in the mind of the customers. The problem of moisture and the damages related to it are things that most home makers have been living with and taking care of in many different ways including ignoring it. Most often the reaction upon hearing about the product is a “wow” and the satisfaction that someone is solving a problem. In fact, before deciding to take a deep plunge into the venture, I first sold silica gel to residential apartments as a validation to gauge the need for the product and saw that there was a need. The speed of growth of the category is going to be dependent on being able to educate and create an awareness of the product and category.

Do you face a lot of competition in this industry? What is your strategy against your competition?

Fmcg business is fraught with competition. Marketers scramble to latch on to small parts of customer perceptions to position their brands. However, given this is a new category, competition is limited. PHS is the only indigenous manufacturer of this category for the consumer market. However, there are a couple of players who import their products. PHS will continue to differentiate by being innovative and innovating fast. Both are crucial to set us apart in this market.

What can you tell us about the industry? Have you developed any industry insights that you could share?

Air care is a category that is seeing a lot of growth in the FMCG space and we want to capitalize that on that growth curve. Dabur and Godrej report 25%+ growth in air care which includes air fresheners, fragrance sprays and diffusers etc. In the fmcg value chain, the retailers are at the top of the pyramid and enjoy a lot of market power and so does the consumer. Consumer purchasing behavior is continuously evolving with evolving lifestyle, urban developments and so on. This industry while being very attractive is seeing and going to see a lot of change and only those who hold a steadfast focus on the consumer will survive.

How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?

Being a new entrant is both exciting and risky and it is imperative that we stay relevant. We have no cashcows to rely on while we jettison the not-so-relevant. Our product SKUs are carefully picked and designed to suit the use-scenarios of the end user. We have a pipeline of ideas that will further strengthen our offerings and stay relevant. Our current products came into existence after discovering a gap in urban lifestyle that was dying for a solution. So, we believe and hope that we are relevant.

What are your future plans for Perfect Home Solutions?

Although we started the company with a single product, the idea behind the venture is to become an entity that delivers innovative and relevant solutions (products or services or a combination) that can fill gaps that affect quality of life. We are interested primarily in theintersection of health and lifestyle where we believe there are number of gaps which require solution be it quality of air or water so on. There is room in both consumer and institutional markets. We have product ideas in dust control and air quality as a whole. We believe that the Indian market will continue to be price sensitive as always. So our ability to make things locally will be an advantage both from a cost perspective and being able to deliver what they need.

If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach? If so, what?

Hindsight is always 20/20. But I would spend less and try to be more cost effective when it comes to commercialization related expenditure.

What do you think about startups in Asia?

I am not an expert in Asian market. From an Indian perspective, the so-called ecosystem is in its infancy. There is a lot that is yet to be accomplished. It is a great time for startups in the hitech spaces like mobile, cloud etc. However, the country as a whole can benefit from the ecosystem including manufacturing sector. It is imperative that India sees a balanced growth so that it sees a sustainable growth and has a chance to close the wealth gap. I believe startups can play a major role in this.

What are some personal principles or personal values that guide you and your career?

Integrity is high on the list. Appreciation for the human value chain. Doing what you like or at least something where you can partially park your heart.

What is your definition of success?

Being able to control the means and the end.

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I have always been in small set ups. I like it and wanted to continue that. Plus, it gives a good chance to try and hit it big. Got to try!

In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?

It takes hard work, time and luck. Don’t hesitate for anything. Ask for help and take help. Shed shame. Develop a thick skin.

Connect:
Website: www.perfecthomesolutions.in
b: www.facebook.com/Cactus.Mooisture.Absorbers

Entrepreneurship

What Kills A Startup

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1 – Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback

Ignoring your users is a tried and true way to fail. Yes that sounds obvious but this was the #1 reason given for failure amongst the 32 startup failure post-mortems we analyzed. Tunnel vision and not gathering user feedback are fatal flaws for most startups. For instance, ecrowds, a web content management system company, said that “ We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

2 – Building a solution looking for a problem, i.e., not targeting a “market need”

Choosing to tackle problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was often cited as a reason for failure. Sure, you can build an app and see if it will stick, but knowing there is a market need upfront is a good thing. “Companies should tackle market problems not technical problems” according to the BricaBox founder. One of the main reasons BricaBox failed was because it was solving a technical problem. The founder states that, “While it’s good to scratch itches, it’s best to scratch those you share with the greater market. If you want to solve a technical problem, get a group together and do it as open source.”

3 – Not the right team

A diverse team with different skill sets was often cited as being critical to the success of a starti[ company. Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.

4 – Poor Marketing

Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Yet, in almost 30% of failures, ineffective marketing was a primary cause of failure. Oftentimes, the inability to market was a function of founders who liked to code or build product but who didn’t relish the idea of promoting the product. The folks at Devver highlighted the need to find someone who enjoys creating and finding distribution channels and developing business relationship for the company as a key need that startups should ensure they fill.

5 – Ran out of cash

Money and time are finite and need to be allocated judiciously. The question of how should you spend your money was a frequent conundrum and reason for failure cited by failed startups. The decision on whether to spend significantly upfront to get the product off the group or develop gradually over time is a tough act to balance. The team at YouCastr cited money problems as the reason for failure but went on to highlight other reasons for shutting down vs. trying to raise more money writing:

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

The old saw was that more companies were killed by poor cashflow than anything else, but factors 1, 2 and 4 probably are the main contributing factors to that problem. No cash, no flow. The issue No 3 – the team – is interesting, as if I take that comment ” I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made” and think about some of the founders and startup CEOs I know, I can safely say that the main way that any decision was made was by agreeing with them – it was “my way or the highway”. I don’t therefore “buy” the team argument, I more buy the willingness of the key decision makers to change when things are not working (aka “pivoting” – point 9).

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About the Author

This article was produced by Broadsight. Broadsight is an attempt to build a business not just to consult to the emerging Broadband Media / Quadruple Play / Web 2.0 world, but to be structured according to its open principles. see more.

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Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor

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Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor.

What’s your story?
I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014.

What excites you most about your industry?
The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner.

Who inspires you?
A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Property is the foundation of every business.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Own instead of renting property for my business.

How do you unwind?
I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Sun Tzu, Art of war

Shameless plug for your business:
Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor

How can people connect with you?
Email me at [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@StoneAmperor

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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